Many people today, including scientists and doctors, are questioning the suffering and killing of animals for the sake of human beings. Is it morally correct to dissect a frog or a worm for the purpose of educating a high school student? On the other hand, must “We study life to protect life” (1:131) The issue of killing animals for the use of biomedical research, education, and cosmetics can be referred as “vivisection”. Twenty-five to thirty-five million animals are spared in the U.S.A. each year for the purpose of research, testing, and education. Although vivisection serves as an important tool for scientists and doctors to work in research and may benefit humans, the harms indeed outweigh the benefits.
Animal experimentation was not common until the early nineteenth century and emerged as an important method of science. The first recorded action of vivisection was the study of body humors by Erasistratus in Alexandria during the third century (1:3). Later, in A.D. 129-200, the physician, Galen, used five pigs to investigate the effects of several nerves (1:4). He is considered to be the founder of experimental physiology. During the Renaissance Era, Andreas Vesalius conducted experiments on monkeys, swine, and goats (1:3). By the late eighteenth century, the methods of scientific discovery were changer to experimentation of live animals by two French physiologists, Claude Bernard and Francious Magnedie. They revolutionized methods of scientific discovery by establishing live animal as common practice (1:4). Claude Bernard believed that in order for medicine to progress, there must be experimental research, and affirmed that “vivisection is indispensable for physical research”. This is when the anti-vivisection movement was established (“vivisection”).
There are different views as to why or why not there should be animal experimentation. For example, Descartes believed that animals are incapable of feeling pain. He said “The greatest of all the prejudices we have retained from our infancy is that of believing that beasts think” (1:4). In other words, Descartes believes that animals have no sensations. Singer argues and thinks that animals have feelings, desires, and preferences. He observed that stimuli that cause pain to humans, such as hitting and burning, cause pain to animals (1:25). Singer ‘s position is that equal harms should be counted equally and not downgraded for animals. However, he does not say that humans and animals have an equal moral status, for he believes that “humans are superior to their fellow animals by virtue of God-given soul” (12:37). Regan, another opposer to Descarte’s view, feels that animals do feel pain and have desires as well. He believes that animals are “Subjects of a life just as human beings are and a subject of a life have inherent values” (1:26). He also feels that animals should not be tested for toxic substances, instead one should use cell tissue cultures (5:26).
The people who favor animal experimentation feel that research is for the purpose of humans. Research is a cultural value to acquire knowledge for knowledge’s sake. In other words, the means justifies the end if the end benefits society. (4:62). They also believe that humans are superior to all other creatures (1:28). Research is for biomedical purposes; 1) to add scientific understanding of basic biological behavior, functions, and processes 2) to improve human or animal health by studying the natural history of the disease (1:22). Henry Foster, the founder of Charles River Breeding Laborator, said that “the use of animals in experiments is all for the benefit of mankind. If you don’t use animals you don’t do research!” (2:45).
Most of the times by doing research one performs tests on animals. For example, rabbits are locked in a chamber and forced to inhale grass, sprays, and vapors. In dermal toxicity studies, rabbits have their fur removed to have substances placed on their skin. In this case they are restrained so they don’t scratch (2:55). Testing is conducted to assess the potency, effectiveness, or toxicity of substances that have established or potential usefulness for medical, scientific, or commercial purposes (1:39). For instance, new drugs are tested for efficiency and safety before clinical trials are conducted on humans. Tests on animals are done to establish safety levels for humans of known toxic substances (1:40).
Although testing might seem like the most efficient way to gain knowledge in these areas, alternatives exist. The use of slides, films, computer programs, and models can fulfill the same job without any harm. For example, in vet schools the symptoms of strychnine poisoning were demonstrated by poisoning dogs and then put on a video tape. On the video the students can go over steps repeatedly and see what is taking place more clearly than in a lecture hall (9:234). In medical schools procedures are easier to follow by camera. Students can watch surgery performed by the top practitioner of the area. By using videos lives are saved, suffering is reduced, and money is saved (6:107).
Animals are also used to teach human concepts at all levels of education, to instruct students in biology, to teach certain skills, and to train the next generation of scientists (1:40). For example, high school students have been conducting frog dissections for the past fifty years. In some schools it is part of the curriculum. A fifteen year old, Jennifer Graham, refused to take part in the dissection of frogs. She was told by her teacher that if she did not do the assignment she would fail the course. She was an “A” student and received a “C” for the course. She took this matter to court. The judge compromised and told her to dissect a frog that died of natural causes, however she never found one and the matter was not resolved (1:195). There are benefits using animals in school like the previous case. It gives students opportunities for detailed function and observations of the structure. When studied in school an increase in interest and motivation to study living animals is provided. It also stimulates children’s creative ability and encourages appreciation towards animals. Finally, it contributes to the personal development of students. Thus a responsibility for animals and the growth of caring attitudes is established (9:221).
In veterinary training, animals are used as models for other animals. In the United States students dissect animals to study their anatomy and function (10:233). Veterinarians practice with animals so they can form technical abilities. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, veterinarians are trained without ever touching animals. Their first experience with live animals is on the job (9:232). The issue of vet students is serious and is left as an endless debate (10:232).
The United States Congress Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that several million animals are used each year for toxicological testing in the United States (2:54). Cosmetics and other substances are tested in animals’ eyes. J.H. draize developed a scale for assessing how irritating a substance is when placed in a rabbit’s eye (2:55). The animals are usually placed in holding devices from which only their heads protrude. This prevents the rabbits from scratching their eyes. Shampoo, ink, or bleach is placed in the eye of each rabbit and is then observed daily for eye infection or swelling (2:56).
Antivivisectionists are unconvinced that animal experimentation has benefits. They feel that vivisection is cruel to animals and detrimental to the moral character of humans. Humanitarians believe that this suffering leads to insensitivity. Their sensibilities hardened thus vivisects became capable of barbarous acts against humans as well as animals (7:59). Medical students, corrupted by hospital teaching, absorb such a love of cruelty that when they visit their homes they practice it for their own sake. Antivivisectionists say that vivisection “reverses the order of the refining forces of civilization” (7:60). The use of animals in these issues should be limited and controlled even though some cases are justified (8:338). The debate among moral philosophers is never ending. There are undoubtedly many moral choices in animal experimentation. But most philosophers agree that animals should be granted a higher status when people decide to “use” them (11:9).